Hockey Day Preview: Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk, and the 2007 draft

Back in 2007, there was a debate as to who the Chicago Blackhawks should select with their first overall draft choice. On the one hand, there was a small, skinny undersized American who was piling up points with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. On the other hand, there was the big power forward that looked great with the U.S. National under-18 team. Both were viewed as “can’t miss prospects.” And three years later, both players are proving the scouts right.

Patrick Kane’s meteoric rise to stardom is pretty straight-forward. He played with the United States Developmental Program for a few years until he moved to the OHL a year before his draft year. During his single year in juniors, Kane played alongside fellow blue-chip prospect Sam Gagner and put up astronomical numbers. In 58 games, he had 62 goals and 83 assists for 145 points. When Chicago picked him #1 overall, no one thought twice about their decision. When he entered the league as an 18-year-old and scored 72 points in his freshman campaign, it seemed pre-ordained.

Kane’s first year was only the beginning of his charmed NHL life. Following his Calder Trophy year, his team started to experience the same levels of success that he’d experienced individually. As part of the rebuilding project in the Windy City, the Blackhawks had assembled a stable of young forwards and defensemen that were the envy of the entire league. They were able to make it to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, only to fall to the more experienced (and defending Stanley Cup champion) Detroit Red Wings.

Kane scored a very respectable 14 points in 16 playoff games in 2009. But like his teammates, he learned some valuable lessons about raising the bar when the games meant the most. In 2010, the Blackhawks had matured into an elite team while finishing 2nd in the Western Conference with 112 points. Any thoughts that they’d fall short were quickly erased when they swept through San Jose and beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 6 games. And wouldn’t you know it; it would be Patrick Kane who would score that Cup winning OT goal in Game 6. Pre-ordained.

On the other side of that Cup winning goal was the man who went #2 overall in that 2007 draft. While Kane was celebrating his triumph, James van Riemsdyk was sitting on the Flyers bench at the end of a very different journey to the NHL.

While Kane had jumped on the fast track to the NHL, van Riemsdyk took a much more traditional route to the best league in the world. After the draft, the New Jersey native decided it would be best to head to Hockey East and the University of New Hampshire to continue his development. In his own words:

“In the NHL you must be able to play at both ends of the ice to really become an elite player in the League and that’s one area I really want to work on and keep getting better at so that I’m not considered a letdown in my own end. Once I take care of my own end, I can have some fun on offense.”

At UNH, van Riemsdyk showed the talent that made him the #2 pick. In 2007, he earned MVP honors at the U17 tournament. In 2008, he represented the United States and was the tournament’s leading scorer at the World Junior Championships. By any measure, he was a successful prospect that was showing the development and potential that any team would salivate over. As long as he wasn’t compared to Kane.

“We were both put in different situations and we were in different stages of our hockey development, and I did what I thought was best for me to be a better player.”

Even though Flyers fans and management expected him to start the 2009-10 season with the Philadelphia Phantoms, he was so impressive in training camp that he earned a spot on the opening day roster. Some people will argue that he made the jump too soon, and some people will argue that he needed to learn lessons in the NHL to become the player the Flyers hoped he’d be one day. He would show positive signs like when he won Rookie of the Month in November, but then he went through a few months that so many rookies deal with. 82 games is a long season—especially for a guy who was used to playing 30+ games each season.

This season, van Riemsdyk has almost as many goals as he did last season—in 26 fewer games. A 20 goal, 40 point season certainly isn’t out of the question for the 21-year-old. That’s right. He’s still only 21-years-old. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger—two key qualities for a power forward in the NHL. And considering the two-way game he’s already learned, he looks like he’s blossoming into the player everyone thought he’d be.

It’ll be great to see both players do their thing on Hockey Day in America. It’s no secret that Patrick Kane (and his mouth guard) will be the center of attention when Chicago takes the ice. But with each passing day, van Riemsdyk is proving that he can handle more and more responsibility. Regardless of their paths to the NHL and the differences in their play, they are both bright spots of hockey’s future and will shine for years to come.

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.

Who could take Taylor Hall’s place if he has to miss the All-Star Game?

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With Taylor Hall set to miss the next couple of games due to a hand injury, and with that injury putting his All-Star Game prospects in jeopardy, we look at the players who are worthy of replacing the New Jersey Devils forward if he has to miss this weekend’s festivities.

Two names that immediately come to mind are Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel and Philadelphia Flyers forward Sean Couturier.

There was already an argument that Kessel deserved to be at the ASG over Sidney Crosby. He was leading the Penguins in points then and two weeks later, he continues to pace Pittsburgh with 21 goals (tied with Evgeni Malkin) and 54 points, three more points than Crosby.

Couturier has already smashed his previous career highs in both goals (26) and points (47). He’s been part of the reason that Claude Giroux is already headed to the ASG and deserves to be there himself.

At third would have to be Sebastian Aho. The talent in the Metropolitan is evident with his snub. He’s clearly the best player on the Carolina Hurricanes this season (no disrespect to Teuvo Teravainen).

Aho is well on his way to eclipsing his rookie-season totals and a big reason why the Hurricanes are three points back of a playoff spot.

Beyond those three guys, there’s a few that certainly deserve the honor:

  • Anders Lee has 27 goals this season, seven off the pace he set last season with half the season to go.
  • Jakub Voracek leads the NHL with 45 assists, four more than teammate Giroux.
  • Evgeni Malkin. Not having a bad year.

It’s important to remember that the at-least-one-player-per-team rule goes out the window when it comes to replacing another All-Star.

There are certainly some very deserving names that didn’t get the first call.

But life’s about second chances.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

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Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita KucherovBrayden PointTyler Johnson

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosChris Kunitz

Alex Killorn — Matthew Peca — Yanni Gourde

Michael Bournival — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Jake DotchinAnton Stralman

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnAndrej Sustr

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Out of sync’ Lightning look to end three-game losing skid against ‘Hawks

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Tomas Jurco — David Kampf — Vinnie Hinostroza

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik Gustafsson — Brent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Jeff Glass

Are Penguins making the right call with Sprong demotion?

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After being a healthy scratch for two games and seemingly being in the doghouse since at least Jan. 17, Daniel Sprong is headed back to the AHL.

To some degree, the move was made because it seems like Bryan Rust is getting ready to return to the mix after being sidelined since Dec. 27. Still, it’s a frustrating development for those who believe in Sprong’s potential as the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

All of the 20-year-old’s points came in one game, as Sprong scored two goals and one assist against the Islanders on Jan. 5. He went without a point in his other seven appearances in the NHL this season, with six coming during his latest stint.

Sprong was in the double digits in ice time each night until the Penguins’ loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 17, when he was glued to the bench from the second period on. Considering his lack of production in general, it’s understandable that head coach Mike Sullivan is more reactive to mistakes.

Certain details make the move more debatable, though.

For those who believe that Ryan Reaves‘ role is antiquated, it must be frustrating to see Sprong get demoted. Reaves has been averaging less than seven minutes per game (6:41) despite taking a spot in the lineup for 49 contests. Pittsburgh is in a life-or-death battle for a playoff spot, and many believe that his presence (and the first rounder they gave up to acquire him) is a waste for the Penguins.

The Pens also seem like they’re taking a questionable all-or-nothing approach with Sprong.

Sprong’s most common even-strength linemates (by far) were Sidney Crosby and Dominik Simon, via Natural Stat Trick. Maybe Sprong isn’t quite the right fit for Crosby at this point in his career, but there has to be at least a chance that he could provide more punch for the Penguins’ lineup than someone like Reaves lower in the lineup?

His possession stats have been solid in a small sample size and he hasn’t been shy, firing just less than three shots on goal per game (22 SOG in eight games). Couldn’t the Penguins find room for Rust and Sprong?

These are questions at least some Penguins media members and fans are asking right now, but the bottom line is that the team clearly believes that Reaves is a difference-maker. If Sprong is going to rank as one as well, it sounds like he’ll need to earn his next chance first.

We’ll see how the Sprong-less Penguins fare against the Carolina Hurricanes in a pretty important game on Tuesday. In other Penguins news, Matt Murray was overwhelmed by the support he received from his team and teammates following his father’s death.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.